CHAUCER by Marion Turner


A European Life
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A thorough look at the rich “imaginative development” of the author of The Canterbury Tales.

Turner (English/Jesus Coll., Univ. of Oxford) concentrates on the cultural and intellectual currents in Geoffrey Chaucer’s life (c. 1342-1400), declaring that the “emotional life” of this medieval English author is “beyond the biographer’s reach.” As she writes, “I’ve chosen to tell the story of his life and his poetry through spaces and places, rather than through strict chronology.” The author manages to glean a great deal about her subject’s life: his childhood in Vintry Ward, London, as the son of a prosperous wine merchant; his witness to the ravages of the Black Plague; his lifelong political attachment to the reigning English sovereign, Edward III, and his royal household. As a young teen, Chaucer's employment with Elizabeth de Burgh, the countess of Ulster, allowed him to absorb all the trappings of wealth while his subsequent travels as ambassador and accountant to Edward and John of Gaunt to France and Italy exposed him to the wildly popular medieval love tales of the time, such as “Roman de la Rose.” As he pursued his own work, Chaucer wrote in English; Turner partly explains his choosing to write in the vernacular as a kind of international trend of the time. Later, his exploration of innovative rhythms led to the invention of the iambic pentameter. The Canterbury Tales, written during his last years living and working at the counting house in the commercial heart of London, reveals the enormous diversity of personages he encountered; this is especially evident in the novel nuances in his portrayals of women. Turner also diligently explores the inspirations behind Chaucer’s recurrent metaphors, demonstrating how he “repeatedly emphasized in his poetry the need to go to the streets and listen to all kinds of people.” Though perhaps too dense for general readers, the book is well-suited to scholars and students of medieval literature.

A meticulously researched, well-styled academic study showing Chaucer as the “consummate networker.”

Pub Date: April 9th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-691-16009-2
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2019


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